Wednesday, February 28, 2018

We grow too soon old and too late smart and it's all downhill from there

I am four days older than the man who wrote the following poem. In about three weeks (Lord willing and the creeks/Creeks don't rise) we both will be observing our 77th birthdays. He became poet laureate of these United States; I have achieved little of consequence. I don't know how old he was when he looked back in time and wrote this particular poem, but it is a good one:

On Turning Ten
by Billy Collins

The whole idea of it makes me feel
like I'm coming down with something,
something worse than any stomach ache
or the headaches I get from reading in bad light--
a kind of measles of the spirit,
a mumps of the psyche,
a disfiguring chicken pox of the soul.

You tell me it is too early to be looking back,
but that is because you have forgotten
the perfect simplicity of being one
and the beautiful complexity introduced by two.
But I can lie on my bed and remember every digit.
At four I was an Arabian wizard.
I could make myself invisible
by drinking a glass of milk a certain way.
At seven I was a soldier, at nine a prince.

But now I am mostly at the window
watching the late afternoon light.
Back then it never fell so solemnly
against the side of my tree house,
and my bicycle never leaned against the garage
as it does today,
all the dark blue speed drained out of it.

This is the beginning of sadness, I say to myself,
as I walk through the universe in my sneakers.
It is time to say good-bye to my imaginary friends,
time to turn the first big number.

It seems only yesterday I used to believe
there was nothing under my skin but light.
If you cut me I could shine.
But now when I fall upon the sidewalks of life,
I skin my knees. I bleed.

P.S. -- This blog turned ten last September 28th. If I had known about the poem then I would have included it in my blogaversary post.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da, life goes on

2018 headlines I never expected to see back in 1968:

Cryptocurrency Mining Is Impacting The Search For Alien Life

Trans Woman Breast-Feeds After Hospital Induces Lactation

I have others, but I will spare you.

If you ask me, and I know you didn't but that doesn't deter me one bit, much of what passes for journalism today has morphed into The National Enquirer. For readers outside the U.S., The National Enquirer is a tabloid one finds displayed near cash registers in supermarkets. It bombards people waiting in the check-out lines with such attention-grabbing headlines as "Woman in Alaska Gives Birth To Moose" and "Three-Headed Girl Wins Pole-Vaulting Competition" and "Lady Gaga Tells All: My Nightmare Date With Tom Cruise” in fonts of the size usually reserved for presidential assassinations. I am not even kidding. There is no way one can avoid seeing The National Enquirer and other publications of its ilk unless one shops with one's eyes tightly shut.

Be that as it may, and I'm changing subjects now, I used to think I was a fairly well-read person, someone who kept current with important happenings in the world, not one to let grass grow under his feet, and so forth. I was wrong. The little bit of which I am aware is so overwhelmed by the vast amount of information out there it makes one's my head swim. Not to belabor (British: belabour) the point, but what brought this realization (British: realisation) to the forefront of my beleaguered befuddled bewitched, bothered, and bewildered mind was learning recently that two semi-profound statements made by two different acquaintances of mine, statements that have resonated with me through the years and raised my acquaintances several notches in my estimation, have turned out not to have originated with them at all but were first said by others, namely:

1. During a discussion back in the early nineties about the quality or lack of quality in the work being produced by our department, a colleague of mine, Larry A., said, "Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly." It caught me off-guard and I thought it was brilliant. Only recently have I discovered that it was a quotation from G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936).

2. A pastor of ours, Don M., said in a sermon 30 or so years ago, "Some people will never know that Jesus is all they need until they get to the place where He's all they have." Again, bingo! It resonated. It stuck with me. It turns out that Don was paraphrasing something said decades earlier by Corrie Ten Boom (1892-1983), a Dutch woman whose family protected Jews from the Nazis during World War II. Her story of her ultimate capture and the years she and her sister spent in a German concentration camp were described in a book (and eventually a motion picture) called The Hiding Place.

The point I'm trying to make is not what a numbskull I am -- I may well be a numbskull but it's not the point I'm trying to make -- but that unless one is saying something so well known that most people recognize the source (Shakespeare, the Bible), one should probably attribute one's words to their originator whenever possible. I don't mean that you need to go around saying, "As Richard Nixon once said, 'I am not a crook' " or “As John F. Kennedy said, ‘Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country’.” Nor am I advocating that you take an encyclopedic approach either, as in "Tall oaks from little acorns grow, which was alluded to as early as 1374 by Geoffrey Chaucer in Troilus and Criseyde (“as an ook cometh from a litel spyr”), more recently by Thomas Fuller in 1732 in Gnomologia (“The greatest Oaks have been little Acorns”), and even poetically by D. Everett in The Columbian Orator, 1797 (“Large streams from little fountains flow, Tall oaks from little acorns grow.”)” — that would not be just silly but downright infuriating as well.

No, friends, I’m simply saying don’t let others think something is your own creation when you know it originated with someone else. For example, whenever I say, “Money is like manure. It doesn’t do any good unless you spread it around” I always mention that it is a line from Hello, Dolly!

Because honesty is the best policy.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Separated at birth?



rhymeswithplague and friend

Czarina Alexandra Romanov, Trilby (a fictional character), and Her Royal Canine Highness Abigail of Canton all have their suspicions.

In a parallel universe, this post having been published on February 14th, it might have been titled My Funny Valentine. Here's Linda Ronstadt singing that very song, complete with its rarely heard verse (3:17). I'd like to think she's singing it to me.

Monday, February 12, 2018

I am not an astrophysicist

Richard Nixon famously said, "I am not a crook." Disregarding gender, which everyone is being urged to do nowadays, a quote from Act III, Scene ii of William Shakespeare's Hamlet springs to mind: "The lady doth protest too much, methinks." In other words, many people believe Richard Nixon really was a crook.

Well, I am not an astrophysicist, my last post notwithstanding. I do admit to having an amateur interest in astronomy, but it is pretty much limited to the location and movement of celestial objects. As they always said at the beginning of every Star Trek episode, Space, The Final Frontier! I am not interested at all in any of the other stuff that true astrophysicists dream about obsess over pursue.

There. I said it and I'm glad.

To blog or not to blog, that is the question. More accurately, what to blog about remains an ongoing concern. Some people are able to blog every single day (Yorkshire Pudding, I'm thinking of you) and others only occasionally (like Hilltophomesteader). I am of the latter type, and wonder constantly what to blog about next.

This is one of those days when nothing comes to mind.

Therefore, and speaking of amateur, please entertain yourselves for a couple of minutes by listening to the Royal Ukelele Band of Hollywood performing 'Down Among the Sheltering Palms' (2:01).

As the stock market gurus are always telling us, diversification is the way to have a successful portfolio.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Fasten your Kuiper belt, it's going to be a bumpy night

...may not be exactly what Bette Davis said in her role as Margo Channing in All About Eve back in 1950, but it's probably what she meant.

For those of you who never click on links, here are the first three paragraphs from Wikipedia's article about the Kuiper belt:

"The Kuiper belt (/ˈkaɪpər/ or Dutch pronunciation: ['kœy̯pǝr]), occasionally called the Edgeworth–Kuiper belt, is a circumstellar disc in the outer Solar System, extending from the orbit of Neptune (at 30 AU) to approximately 50 AU from the Sun. It is similar to the asteroid belt, but is far larger—20 times as wide and 20 to 200 times as massive. Like the asteroid belt, it consists mainly of small bodies or remnants from when the Solar System formed. While many asteroids are composed primarily of rock and metal, most Kuiper belt objects are composed largely of frozen volatiles (termed "ices"), such as methane, ammonia and water. The Kuiper belt is home to three officially recognized dwarf planets: Pluto, Haumea and Makemake. Some of the Solar System's moons, such as Neptune's Triton and Saturn's Phoebe, may have originated in the region.

"The Kuiper belt was named after Dutch-American astronomer Gerard Kuiper, though he did not predict its existence. In 1992, Albion was discovered, the first Kuiper belt object (KBO) since Pluto and Charon. Since its discovery, the number of known KBOs has increased to over a thousand, and more than 100,000 KBOs over 100 km (62 mi) in diameter are thought to exist. The Kuiper belt was initially thought to be the main repository for periodic comets, those with orbits lasting less than 200 years. Studies since the mid-1990s have shown that the belt is dynamically stable and that comets' true place of origin is the scattered disc, a dynamically active zone created by the outward motion of Neptune 4.5 billion years ago; scattered disc objects such as Eris have extremely eccentric orbits that take them as far as 100 AU from the Sun.

"The Kuiper belt is distinct from the theoretical Oort cloud, which is a thousand times more distant and is mostly spherical. The objects within the Kuiper belt, together with the members of the scattered disc and any potential Hills cloud or Oort cloud objects, are collectively referred to as trans-Neptunian objects (TNOs). Pluto is the largest and most massive member of the Kuiper belt, and the largest and the second-most-massive known TNO, surpassed only by Eris in the scattered disc. Originally considered a planet, Pluto's status as part of the Kuiper belt caused it to be reclassified as a dwarf planet in 2006. It is compositionally similar to many other objects of the Kuiper belt and its orbital period is characteristic of a class of KBOs, known as "plutinos", that share the same 2:3 resonance with Neptune."

(end of excerpt from Wikipedia)

I bet your little heads are spinning faster than Pluto, Haumea, and Makemake, which (as we all know and should not be fooled by articles in Wikipedia) are a part of the Bismarck Archipelago, a group of islands off the northeastern coast of New Guinea in the western Pacific.

I'm joking.

An interesting aside, Makemake (also written as Make-make or MakeMake; pronounced [ˈmakeˈmake] -- which I, rhymeswithplague, am pretty sure has four syllables, not two -- in Rapa Nui) in the Rapa Nui mythology of Easter Island, is the creator of humanity, the god of fertility and the chief god of the "Tangata manu" or bird-man cult (this cult succeeded the island's more famous Moai era). He is a frequent subject of the Rapa Nui petroglyphs. In astronomy, the trans-Neptunian dwarf planet Makemake was so named because both the planet and the island are connected to Easter; the planet was discovered shortly after Easter 2005, and the first European contact with Easter Island was on Easter Sunday 1722. The dwarf planet's code name was "Easterbunny".

Interesting asides aside, and I'm sure Yorkshire Pudding will say that everybody knows that Makemake is both a trans-Neptunian object in the Kuiper belt and the god of fertility on Easter Island just as everybody knows that the capital of Burkina Faso is Ouagadougou, the real question before us is this:

What in the name of all that's holy is an AU?

People here in Georgia would say with confidence that AU is Auburn University over in Alabamistan, but they would be wrong. An AU is an Astronomical Unit.

Ever inquisitive, you are probably now saying, "Okay, but what is an Astronomical Unit?"

I'm glad you asked.

An Astronomical Unit is the mean distance between the Earth and the Sun, or approximately 93,000,000 miles (150,000,000 km). I say "mean distance" because -- as you all know -- the Earth's orbit around the Sun is elliptical in the same way that the moon's orbit around the Earth is elliptical. Sometimes we are closer to the sun, and sometimes we are farther away, but the mean distance is -- all together, class -- 93,000,000 miles (150,000,000 km).

Here's another aside. Just as the moon's closest approach to earth is called its perigee and its farthest distance from Earth is called its apogee, the Earth's nearest and farthest distances from the Sun are called its perihelion and apohelion, respectively.

I think that's quite enough new material for one post.

I hope you have been taking notes, because there may be testing later. Any pop quizzes will also include questions about the theoretical Oort cloud and Saturn's Phoebe, which you are expected to learn about in your outside reading.

I told you it was going to be a bumpy ride.

This has been the Rhymeswithplague Occasional Foray Into Science (ROFIS), because a lot of what we thought we knew about the Solar System has changed since most of us were in school.

(Based on the public domain Nasa images)

To help you grasp the size of the trans-Neptunian objects above, Earth is shown at the bottom center of the composite photograph, and in the lower lefthand corner is Earth’s moon.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

I wonder if the Navajo code talkers started this way

I have a secret message to send you, but I’m fresh out of decoder rings. I will forge ahead anyway.


In the absence of secret decoder rings, here’s the key to decoding the message:

JIMMY = The Philadelphia Eagles
CORN = the Super Bowl
ETAOIN SHRDLU = and I don’t care

And you thought ETAOIN SHRDLU was the capital of Burkina Faso.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

From Natchez to Mobile, from Memphis to Saint Joe, wherever the four winds blow

Groundhog Day came and went on February 2nd, but I ignored all the folderol festivities surrounding this year’s event. Instead, I went about my business as though, in the overall scheme of things, it made absolutely no difference whether various and sundry large rodents do or do not indicate that we would have six more weeks of winter.

Because it didn’t (make any difference).

Moving right along....

In the previous post I mentioned that Orange Beach, Alabama, is located west of Pensacola, Florida, and east of Mobile Bay, on the other side of which is the city of Mobile, Alabama. In a comment, our friend Snowbrush who lives nowadays in Eugene, Oregon, but was originally from Mississippi, said that his half-sister’s house is in Pensacola and he drove through Mobile many a time to get to her house in Pensacola but had never heard of Orange Beach.

This challenge to my veracity cannot go unanswered. The proof, as they say, is in the pudding, and for our purposes the pudding happens to be the following map of the area:

There it is, ladies and gentlemen, stretching from Pascagoula, Mississippi, on the left to just past Pensacola, Florida, on the right. You see Mobile. You see Pensacola. And if you look very closely and squint and hold your tongue just right, you will also see Orange Beach down along the coast. I rest my case. I never said you went through Orange Beach on the way from Mobile to Pensacola, either on I-10 today or on U.S. 90 back in the days before I-10 was built, when Snowbrush was visiting his half-sister.

I do find it rather bizarre, however, that a notice that Alabama Law Requires All Motorcycle Operators and Riders Wear A Helmet appears in the middle of the Gulf Of Mexico.